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State gives schools more time and flexibility to comply with PE requirements, while funding remains limited

HERALD PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Kids in Molalla get active on Sept. 14.It has been 10 years since the State of Oregon originally enacted House Bill 3141, creating a K-8 physical education minutes requirement for schools to meet by July 2017. But 90 percent of Oregon schools have failed to meet it—including those in Canby School District.

So this year, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 4, effective July 1. This bill amends the previous one to extend the timeline and offer more flexibility to schools. According to the 2017 Legislative Report from the Oregon School Boards Association and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, the amended requirements are as follows.

  • With the bill, there is now no PE minutes requirement for schools in the next biennium (2017-2019).
  • But by 2019-20, elementary schools are required to provide 120 minutes per week of PE instruction; and by 2020-21 they're required to be in full compliance at 150 minutes per week.
  • Then by 2021-22, middle schools are required to provide 180 minutes per week; and by 2022-23, middle schools will have to be in full compliance at 225 minutes a week.
  • Superintendent Trip Goodall reinstated half-time PE after his first year on the job; but Canby schools are still coming up short. Last year, most elementary school students in Canby School District received 30 minutes of PE per week, well below the 2015-16 K-6 state average of 84 minutes; and Canby's middle school students averaged 140 to 150 minutes per week, which is barely below the 2015-16 7 to 8 state average of 157. But middle school students split their year between health and PE curriculum, so that middle school number is actually higher, even exceeding the end requirement, during the part of the year that students participate in PE.

    "Studies show that regular physical activity at school benefits children's academic performance." — Sen. Peter Courtney

    The original bill, passed in 2007, was intended to help kids increase activity and combat obesity. Oregon Senator Peter Courtney expressed the importance of physical activity in his May 3, 2017 testimony about SB 4.

    "Regular physical activity is important for our kids. It keeps them healthy, it keeps them happy, and it keeps them engaged…It has even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, leading to better mental health. Studies show that regular physical activity at school benefits children's academic performance. Kids who are active have higher test scores and grades. They pay better attention to academic tasks. They have better memory and recall. Active children are even less likely to act out in school. This is why it is so important that we ensure that physical education is being taught in Oregon classrooms."

    But the staff members in Canby School District don't need convincing when it comes to understanding the importance of PE.

    "We all absolutely wholeheartedly believe in PE, but we just don't know how to make that work," said Sheryl Lipski, Canby School District's director of teaching and learning. "It's a complex problem…There are so many components and I don't think people understand all the pieces."

    A number of identifiable obstacles stand in the way of Canby schools meeting the requirements.

    First, schools need more PE teachers, which costs more money. "Right now, we have a half-time teacher at each building," Lipski said. "I could add another full-time teacher to each building and it still wouldn't provide enough time to meet the PE requirement."

    If Canby were to hire an additional full-time teacher at each elementary and middle school building (seven total) at the lowest salary tier of $39,508, that would amount to a needed $276,556 from the budget.

    Though Canby School District's 2017-18 budget is looking better than originally estimated, according to Denise Lapp, Canby School District's director of finance, with hiring a few new teaching positions and honoring pay increases for those eligible for a salary step increase, the school is estimated to break even with an ending fund balance that meets the school board's 5 percent policy.

    In the recently approved SB 4, the legislature attempted to address this issue of schools struggling to fund new teaching positions. They created a provision which allows elementary school teachers to instruct their own class and a partner's class for up to 45 minutes per week.

    A representative from Sen. Courtney's office acknowledged that schools have limited time and money. "We wanted to make sure that adding more PE wouldn't require hiring a bunch of additional PE teachers," the representative said, "and it also wouldn't mean that we took away planning time from teachers. This way, a teacher could share their class and one teacher could do planning time while the other one is taking kids on a structured PE activity."

    But elementary school teachers aren't necessarily equipped to provide quality PE instruction, and their time is limited.

    "...We support physical education; but when it's mandated by the legislature, then we look for the legislature to fund the costs associated with their programs." — Alex Pulaski

    Besides the cost of hiring, larger financial constraints remain. Except at 91 School, all of the schools would need more square footage for PE classes. According to Lipski, the elementary schools would need close to 10,000 additional square feet and Baker Prairie would need a bit more. As it stands, school property is limited and gyms don't come cheap, so schools need more funding.

    "OSBA and our members, we support physical education; but when it's mandated by the legislature, then we look for the legislature to fund the costs associated with their programs," said Alex Pulaski, communications director at OSBA. "School funding is extremely tight in Oregon. It's been tight for a decade or more. So, every time there's a new requirement put on with a cost associated with it, we look for that to be covered."

    Beginning in 2007, the legislature has offered some funding in the form of the PEEK-8 grant to support schools in meeting the requirement, but there's not enough dough to go around. This year, the legislature allocated $4.3 million dollars for the 2017-19 biennium for teacher hire and professional development grants, according to the Education Program Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education Suzanne Hidde. But that sum is spread thin over two academic years and nearly 1,000 K-8 public schools in the state of Oregon.

    "This is a competitive grant, and there are more grant requests than can be funded," Hidde said.

    The average teacher hire award per school for the 2017-18 academic year is $36,000, per Hidde, merely enough to underpay one teacher.

    "Do we lengthen the school day in order to accommodate the time requirement?" — Sheryl Lipski

    Finally, beyond the funding issue, allowing enough time in a school day for PE is also a concern. Lipski pointed out that the schools have researched the amount of time that teachers should spend instructing language arts and math.

    "Do we lengthen the school day in order to accommodate the time requirement?" Lipski said. "I think that's really where we're going to have to go next is either lengthening the day or changing the amount of time we spend in other areas, because I don't know where else we're going to carve this out."

    So despite being in agreement about the importance of physical education for students, Canby schools are in a tough spot when it comes to meeting the requirement.

    "We don't have an answer yet," Lipski said.

    But Goodall added that the district will persist in working to meet the PE minutes requirements.

    "I will be working with other superintendents to come into compliance over the next few years," Goodall said in an email. "We also will be continuing the conversation with legislators."

    Kristen Wohlers
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